People take part in a protest called 'Justice for Joyce' in Montreal, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, where they demanded justice for Joyce Echaquan and an end to systemic racism. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Quebec coroner’s inquest into death of Joyce Echaquan begins as her family testifies

MONTREAL — The husband of an Indigenous woman who was subjected to disparaging comments from staff as she was dying in a Quebec hospital told a Quebec coroner’s inquiry Thursday she didn’t deserve to have her life end that way.

Joyce Echaquan, 37, an Atikamekw mother of seven, livestreamed video from the hospital in Joliette, Que., last September as female staff were heard insulting and mocking her.

The Facebook Live video circulated widely on social media and prompted widespread indignation across the country. Two employees were subsequently dismissed.

Carol Dubé, 43, her husband of 23 years, told the inquiry Echaquan was an exceptional wife and mother. He said she loved life, family, animals and travelling through the territory of her ancestors.

“She didn’t ask to end her life like that withthose people who insulted her, who disparaged her,” Dubé said, adding that getting justice for her would be the best outcome.

Dubé said his wife had health problems, includingheart issues and diabetes, and didn’t like going to the hospital in Joliette. Dubé said although he had never heard any racist comments when he accompanied her, he said it was different when she went alone.

Echaquan was taken to hospital by ambulance with stomach pains on Sept. 26 and had told her husband in a text she had bleeding in her stomach. She died in hospital on Sept. 28, not long after posting the video.

Dubé said he met with hospital officials the day after the death and they told him she had two litres of blood pumped from her stomach and was intubated. Her husband said they told him Echaquan’s death was natural and there wouldn’t be an autopsy.

Coroner Géhane Kamel’s will preside over the public hearings and will hear from about 50 witnesses, including health-care staff, whose identities are protected by publication bans, expert witnesses and members of Echaquan’s family.

Kamel said in her opening statement that her role is to maintain an open mind, but she emphasized that the behaviour and attitude of hospital staff toward Echaquan are integral to understanding the circumstances of her death.

She said she was approaching the process with one certainty.

“I am deeply convinced that we must learn to live together and to welcome differences as a collective wealth,” Kamel said. “These cultural differences are gems that should be welcomed by all who live in Quebec.”

The probe will sit for 13 days between May 13 and June 2 at the provincial courthouse in Trois-Rivières, Que., about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.

The first witness was Martin Pichette, a Quebec provincial police officer who oversaw an investigation into Echaquan’s death.

Pichette said officers spoke to 36 people during their investigation, including family and health-care staff. No file was transferred to prosecutors because nothing criminal was found to have occurred in Echaquan’s death, he said.

Dubé spoke to reporters outside the courthouse before the proceedings began, surrounded by his children and supporters.

“I feel ready, I feel confident,” Dubé said, adding that they were the only comments he intends to make to the media until the hearings are complete. “I’m like you, I don’t know what awaits us yet. I will try to understand, like you.”

The family’s lawyer, Patrick Ménard-Martin, told reporters it was an important step for a family that has been seeking answers.

A coroner’s inquest does not rule on liability but rather looks at the causes and circumstances of a death and comes up with recommendations to avoid similar occurrences.

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